Peach sorbet with cassis.

I’ve fallen in with the cult of sorbetmakers.  You know, the ones who can whip up a batch of fruity ice-cold goodness whenever the need requires.  The ones who like sorbet that tastes just like the fruit, without any pits or pith, or chewing, involved.  Sorbet that’s such a far cry from the stuff you can buy in the supermarket that it’s downright wrong that they would be called by the same name.

The sorbet, also, that’s so damned easy to make it would be crazy not to.  I started making sorbet following Paul Bertolli’s recipe for strawberry sorbet in Cooking by Hand. You don’t need an ice-cream maker, or strong whisking arms.  You simple whiz up frozen berries with a bit of sugar and water in the food processor, then freeze until it hardens.  The method works for many different sorbets and, in the hope of converting some readers to the sorbet cult, I’ve chosen the easiest example to showcase here, made with frozen organic peaches and a touch of cassis, yielding a lightly sweet, dainty little sorbet that is a guaranteed pleaser, perfect after a meal of steamed fish and broccoli, perfect for my health conscious Friday-night dinner clients.  Perfect, otherwise, alongside chocolate cake, or after a hamburger.  Come to think of it, this sorbet would make a perfect margarita mixer, too.

And if that’s not enough to entice you, how about this: I made this sorbet in under 4 minutes. And the majority of that time was spent doing nothing but pressing my finger on the pulse button of my food processor, and watching the peaches whirlwind into dessert.  The extent of my “prepwork” was opening a bag of frozen peaches. (You could use your own previously frozen peaches, too, as I did before they ran out… alas.) Oh, and measuring out a few tablespoons of sugar, though you could do that by eye if you wanted.

Surely you could whip up a batch between swims, or beers, this Memorial Day weekend.

Peach Sorbet with Cassis

Makes about 2 cups

This sorbet is hardly sweet, with a delicate peachy flavor and the background notes of cassis.  It would work very well as a palate cleanser between courses, or for a simple dessert on a hot summer night.

1 (10-ounce) bag frozen peaches, organic if possible
3 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1 tablespoon cassis liquor, optional
¼ cup water

In a food processor, pulse peaches and sugar together until the peaches become the texture of peas.  Add cassis and pulse more, until peaches begin to look like sand.  Begin to slowly drizzle in water, letting the processor run, until you have a smooth paste, about 2-3 minutes.  Transfer to a container and freeze until hardened, about 2 hours.  Eat within a day or two.


With olives.

There’s something on my mind: I’ve found (in real-life and through comments) that a lot of people are self-prescribed haters of certain foods—and I just don’t get it. Putting foods on a “hate to eat” list is so limiting.  Think of all the deliciousness that you may be keeping from yourself! I’ve had many experiences when I tried a food that I disliked, one that was prepared by a fabulous cook or chef, and promptly threw it into the category of favorite foods.  Beets, poached eggs, pate, fennel—they were all on my dislike list at one point or another and, even though I still rarely eat beets (by choice) and pate (by crying myself to sleep some nights because I can’t afford to eat pate), they don’t sit on a list anymore.  I don’t have the list anymore; set fire to it a while ago.  It’s very freeing.

Olives were on that list right up until the burning of it.  I never liked olives; no, I hated olives.  Olives aren’t an odd thing to dislike, Harold McGee calls the olive fruit “highly unpalatable” and notes that we really only like to eat them when cured.  But I didn’t want to eat them at all.  Didn’t want them near my vodka.  Didn’t want to smell them as I passed by the olive bar at the market.  I also, however, hadn’t tried one in years.  Not a smart move for a supposed “foodie.”

Well, I’m happy to say that I tried olives and liked them.  I did it out of desperation.  I was in a slump this winter and needed a new and exciting recipe.  I found one in Saveur magazine, a recipe for sea bass baked in parchment with keilbasa, olives, and fennel.  It wasn’t my favorite recipe, but the best part about it was the olives.  Baked in the oven until soft and oozing their brine, olives are meltingly, disarmingly delicious.  I’m still not a fan of eating olives out of hand, except maybe for nicoise, but I love to cook with olives.

This in particular is my newest favorite olive recipe.  You roast a cut-up chicken with lots of rosemary, thyme, and pancetta, until golden brown, then throw in some black olives and roast until the olives are tender, the chicken browned, and the pancetta crispy.  Because you are using olives, which have such an intense, briny taste, you can go crazy with the herbs.  Don’t hold back on the rosemary or thyme—and use fresh.  The sweetly woody aroma of the herbs are a perfect match for olives; and the roasted garlic is a perfect match for anything.  We had this on top of pureed cauliflower with a clove of the roasted garlic mashed up into the puree, and it was just heaven. With olives.

Chicken with Pancetta and Olives

serves 2-3

adapted from Gourmet, January 2009

  • 1 chicken (about 3 pounds), backbones cut out and each chicken cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons chopped thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • scant 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • pinch hot red-pepper flakes
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved if large
  • 4 (1/4-inch-thick) slices pancetta, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 12 oil-cured black olives
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • more water, to thin, if needed

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle.  Toss chicken with oil, thyme, rosemary, sea salt, red-pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon pepper, rubbing mixture into chicken.

Arrange chicken, skin side up, in 1 layer in a 17-by 11-inch 4-sided sheet pan. Scatter garlic and pancetta on top and roast until chicken begins to brown, about 20 minutes. Drizzle wine over chicken and roast 8 minutes more. Scatter olives over chicken and roast until skin is golden brown and chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, add 1/4 cup water and cauliflower.  Cover and cook over medium heat until cauliflower is very tender.  Add butter and one small (or one half large) clove of the roasted garlic and puree with a stick blender or in a stand blender until very smooth.

Serve chicken on top of a mound of cauliflower.

Candied kumquats with vanilla and cinnamon

I’ve been anxiously awaiting canning season this year. Last summer I didn’t preserve nearly enough as we needed for the upcoming year.  We’ve been out of jam for months now and this year I plan on making enough cherry, strawberry, blueberry, and peach preserves to last a year of ravenous monkeys.

But until I’m able to find the best fruits of the season—and it’s about time for cherries!—I’ve been playing with some of the fruits that, in New Jersey, I never get to buy locally. These kumquats aren’t local, and I’m not sure when their season is (I’m guessing winter) but, cooked slowly in syrup, they were delicious nonetheless.

Anyway you candy kumquats will yield sweet-tart, marmalade-like preserves, but this recipe is really special.  I spotted it in a recipe for a gingerbread cake topped with candied kumquats, and the thought of cinnamon and vanilla bean must have flipped on a switch in my brain, because I couldn’t think another thought until I had the kumquats I’d bought earlier that week swimming in a sweet pool of honey and spices.

Orange honey is a perfect match here, the background floral and citrus is a real no-brainer to pair with kumquats, but any honey would do.  I used a vanilla bean and I don’t think vanilla extract would work here (vanilla sugar would be fine); you could leave it out if you don’t have (or want to buy) a vanilla bean.  You can’t totally see it in the pictures, since the syrup was still hot, but the magical black specks of vanilla bean came out to sparkle by the next day.  The jar didn’t last much longer than that, though.

Candied Kumquats with Vanilla and Cinnamon

makes one 8-oz jar with a bit leftover

1/2 cup water
3/4 cup orange honey
scant 1/4 cup natural sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 of a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 pint kumquats, halved and seeded (about 14-18 ounces)

Add first five ingredients to a saucepan over medium-high heat, scraping the seeds from the vanilla bean and adding both seeds and pod.  Stir to dissolve sugar.  Add kumquats and bring back to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so, until kumquats are tender and the syrup has reduced some.  Cool and store in a jar in the fridge.

Craving kumquats without the bean? Try Elise’s Candied Kumquats or get fancy with some of Cannelle et Vanille’s Candied Kumquat and Pistachio Financiers.

Red-cooked pork belly

I’ve made a recipe similar to this red-cooked pork belly before, so I’ll give you a tip: make this one instead.  While I loved the soupy-version from The River Cottage Meat Book, it lacked the texture and the intensity that this version has.  This version, adapted from both the RCMB and from a post on the wonderful blog, the Red Cook, is flavored with anise, ginger, and orange.  The belly meat is caramelized and the surrounding sauce turns syrupy and thick, perfect for coating fluffy white rice.

Now, there’s about a gahzillion versions of red-cooked pork belly and I’m in no way claiming any authority.  As an Asian-style cook, I’m amateur at best, and being that I’ve never had red-cooked pork belly at a Chinese restaurant (why, oh why do we not see this on Chinese menus in America), I don’t have much to base my recipe off of.  But it’s mouth-wateringly delicious and that’s enough for me (and you, I hope.)

The most important difference between my first pork belly recipe and this one is caramelization.  Because of the layer of fat on the pork belly, it tastes best after a quick rendering on high heat, browning the the top of the fat and all the sides, and then adding the flavorings, especially the orange peel, to quickly caramelize too, before adding any liquid.  Then as soon as you put in the liquid, the rendered fat and browned up bits will incorporate and begin to thicken and create the sauce.  With the heat lowered, you allow the pork to cook and everything to meld together for a few hours, the liquid reducing a little.  I add a bit of cornstarch, mixed first with water to create a slurry, to the liquid when it’s close to done, to thicken it up more (and because I love the taste of cornstarch-thickened sauces.)

It just so happens that I returned to the Red Cook’s blog today and saw this post, where Kian revisited his first red-cooked pork belly recipe and came to the conclusion that it’s better to boil the pork belly before beginning the recipe.  While I did this on my first pork belly try, I didn’t this time and now I’m banging my head against the wall—wondering how good it could have been with this step (could it have been better? My head might explode.)  Do whatever you like, it will still be great without the par-boiling, but I’m surely going on Kian’s word next time and adding the extra step.  The rest of my recipe, however, will remain untouched; I don’t think my head could handle anything more delicious.

Red-cooked Pork Belly

adapted from River Cottage Meat Book and The Red Cook

2 lb. pork belly meat cut into two inch cubes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 bunch scallions, coarsely chopped
3 whole star anise
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
peel from 1/2 orange
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
water to almost cover

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with tablespoon water, to make a slurry

scallions and cilantro for garnish
white rice

In a 4-6 quart dutch oven or pot, melt sugar into oil over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until sugar turns a deep brown color. Put the pork belly pieces in the pot and brown them on all sides, caramelizing, about 10 minutes.

Add the star anise, ginger, orange peel. Cook for another 2 minutes and then add dark soy sauce, wine and water into the pot. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat. Cook for about 1 hour . Remove the cover and cook for another hour. Add cornstarch slurry and turn up the heat to medium. Cook the meat for another 10 minutes until the sauce reduces to a smooth consistency.

Serve with white rice and scallions and cilantro for garnish. Try and save some for leftovers, mixed together in a Tupperware. The rice will be to die for.


Ok. I’m going to get right to it and list the ingredients that went into this dish, in the vain hope that you won’t immediately click away, that you’ll trust me that not only is this dish delicious, it’s not in anyway over-the-top, that it’s actually quite subtle, even with the coconut sauce, crab, curry, fiddlehead ferns, and hazelnuts that went into it.

It may seem like an odd combination, fiddlehead ferns, lemongrass, and hazelnuts, but I promise it isn’t.  The coconut sauce that covers the dish is light, airy, and very mild.  The toasted hazelnuts add warmth to the crisp flavors of fiddleheads and crab.  The sea bass, which is really interchangeable with any fish you can find, lends a touch of crispy brownness from the skin.  All in all, everything works.

The recipe made more coconut sauce than we needed, about half too much, but I’m looking forward to trying it as a base for a chowder this weekend, and you could certainly sub it in for the coconut milk here.

If you can find fiddlehead ferns, grab them up for this dish.  It would also work with green beans, but not nearly as well I think.  Fiddlehead ferns have an astringent brightness that’s not quite comparable to green beans, or anything else for that matter. Contrary to what the lovely, wonderful people I met this week think, fiddleheads are totally not overrated in my book. ; ) I like to steam them for about 10 minutes, to break down the fibrousness but make sure, however you cook them, to rinse them in a good lot of water two or three times, to get all the dirt that’s clinging in the tendrils.

And while I find this next statement thoroughly pull-your-hair-out, I don’t think you should bother with this dish unless you have a good source of crab.  Now by good source, I don’t mean you need to live in Seattle, or Maine, but it means that you should probably have a fish-monger, one in his very own storefront, not in the supermarket (well, some supermarkets are fine) and your crab should not come in a can.  While I think canned crab is fine for cakes, or cooked dishes, this crab is practically untouched, not cooked at all, and needs to taste like crab, not tin. If you don’t have a good fish guy, and you live in my area, my favorites are Buckingham Seafood and Heller’s.  And Nassau Seafood in Princeton is great, too.

If you can find good crab though, this is as good a preparation as any for it.  The curry lightly scents the crabmeat, whose sweetness is offset by the fiddleheads.  And the toasted hazelnuts and hazelnut oil add a fatty, crunchy bite.  After this dinner, I’m starting to believe that anything would benefit from toasted hazelnuts.  After this dinner, really, I’d believe anything.  It’s one of those happy-feeling meals, when you end it a little high, smiling, and excited; an out-of-the-box kind of meal that makes you start wildly wondering where you next meal will go.  Any ideas?

Black sea bass with fiddlehead ferns, curried crab, and hazelnuts

serves 6

for the crab salad

1/2 pound fiddlehead ferns, cleaned
1 pound freshly-picked crabmeat, picked over for shell pieces
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 tsp Madras curry powder, or to taste
2 teaspoons lime juice

for the coconut sauce

1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup good chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 stalk lemongrass
1 dried bird’s eye chile
1 two-inch piece of ginger, sliced
salt, pepper

for the completed dish

6 fillets black sea bass, seasoned with salt and pepper
handful of hazelnuts, toasted and skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel

hazelnut oil

Steam cleaned fiddlehead ferns for 10 minutes of so, until tender.  In a medium bowl, combine crab, scallions, curry powder, and lime juice.  Add fiddleheads.  Season to taste with salt; set aside.

In a small saucepan combine coconut milk and stock, bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add lemongrass, chile, and ginger and bring back to a boil.  Turn off heat and set aside for 40 minutes. (Can be made ahead.)  Once rested, run sauce through a sieve and discard solids.  Season with salt and pepper and heat back up on the stove for completed dish.

Add a touch of oil to a skillet and heat pan until almost smoking.  Add sea bass, skin side down, and cook for 4 minutes, pressing down on the skin for the first three minutes and then covering with a lid and steaming for the last minute. (You may need to do this in batches.)

Chop toasted hazelnuts.

Arrange crab salad on plates.  Place sea bass on top of crab salad and spoon warmed coconut sauce all over dish.  Top with toasted hazelnuts and a drizzling of hazelnut oil.  Season to taste with salt and serve.

Roasted and Braised Duck With Sauerkraut

This is the first spring that Jim and I will spend living in a nice place.  We’ve been in old, crappy complexes before, and ones that look pretty on the outside, but are about 500 square feet too small on this inside, ones where you end up with a view of the parking lot.  This spring is different.  We have a screened in porch (the excitement never ceases), trees galore, and a river out the backyard.  Jim swam in it yesterday; he sat on the rock in the middle of the river, closed his eyes and smiled, letting the current rush around him.  And I cursed myself for leaving my camera behind.

But the best thing about this spring is duck, and the local farm that raises it.  I’ve spoken about Podere di Melo before but I feel I must bring them up again, being that there’s a few more nearby-people reading my blog now.  Podere di Melo farm is… well, they say it best:

Podere di Melo is a Certified Naturally Grown farm in West Amwell, New Jersey.  We specialize in foods of the Italian and French countryside.  Our products include European vegetables, honey, and a variety of meats including gourmet poultry, duck, lamb, guinea fowl, and heritage pork.   Our family is dedicated to sustainable farming practices.  We use no synthetic fertilizers, no pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides on our crops.  Our animals roam over chemical-free pastures and are never given antibiotics or hormones.  We pride ourselves on our humane treatment of our animals, allowing them continual access to pasture and sunshine throughout most of the year.

Please note the words Italian and French countryside, roam, dedicated to sustainable farming, humane treatment, pasture and sunshine. Are you smiling?  I am.  Podere di Melo’s food is above anything I’ve ever tasted, even organic.  Farm-raised on a small farm is just a different thing altogether.  I’ve mentioned the chicken before which are raised, in the European tradition, to 12 weeks of age before slaughter (up from 6-8 for industrially-farmed chickens), and I’m sure I’ll mention the pork this coming summer (we got to check out the lazy pigs this weekend, adorable little big guys), but today I’m here for duck.

I’d reserved four ducks online from Podere a month or two ago, knowing I would pick them up this weekend.  What I couldn’t foresee however, was the weather. Perfect for walking around the farm, checking out the pigs, and letting Champ check out the horse barn (he couldn’t believe that they made whole houses for animals!).  It was the dreamy start to our duck dinner, though I’m sure everything would work out fine without that step.

Instead of the traditional sweet-with-duck, like a l’Orange, we opted for duck with braised sauerkraut.  I’m a sauerkraut lover, as is Jim, so when I found Mark Bittman’s easy as pie (easier) recipe for Roasted and Braised Duck with Sauerkraut, we knew we had dinner.  Our duck was perfectly sized for my oval dutch oven, leaving enough room for sauerkraut.  For the recipe, it’s about as simple as putting the duck in a pot, pot in the oven, wait, pot on stove, sauerkraut in pot, wait, carve and eat.  Oh, and don’t forget to drain off and save the fat.

The trick is to cook it in a pot or dutch oven, so that the fat renders and then fries the duck legs on the bottom of the pot.  (The other trick, I’m sure, is to buy a farm-raised duck, which are near impossible to mess up; even overcooked I’m sure the flavor would be enough to satisfy.)  I drained off all but about 1 tablespoon of the fat after the duck had been roasted, then added a few teaspoons to some parboiled yukon gold potatoes and roasted them at 500 degrees in the oven while the duck cooked with the sauerkraut on the stovetop.  Let me tell you: Best. Potatoes. Ever.

The duck was flavorful with a hint of game, succulent, and fork-tender.  The sauerkraut lent just the right amount of acid to cut through the fat.  It was one of those meals, when you are so full but there’s half a duck breast on your plate, and you are really, truly sorry that you can’t eat another bite. Okay, just one small bite more…

Roasted and Braised Duck With Sauerkraut

2-4 servings

from Mark Bittman’s Recipe of the Day

The quality of the sauerkraut is important here. Just make sure the only ingredients are cabbage and salt; inferior sauerkraut contains preservatives, and the kind sold in cans tastes like tin. Even the best sauerkraut, though, should be rinsed before it is added it to the pan.

1 duck, about 4-5 pounds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 quart sauerkraut, rinsed
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 cup dry white wine or water
2 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prick the duck all over with a fork, then sprinkle it with salt and pepper and place it in a large, deep, ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven. Roast the duck for about 1 1/2 hours, checking occasionally to make sure it is browning steadily. (If the duck is barely browning, increase the heat by 50 degrees; if it seems to be browning too quickly, reduce the heat slightly.) When it is nicely browned and has rendered a great deal of fat, pour off all but a few tablespoons of the fat and transfer the pan to the top of the stove.

Scatter the sauerkraut around the duck, then sprinkle it with paprika, moisten it with the wine, and tuck the bay leaves in. Turn the heat to low, and cover the pan. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then stir and put some of the sauerkraut on top of the duck.

Cook another 15 minutes or so, until the duck is quite tender. Carve and serve.

Thank you, with dill.

Hi.  I want to thank you guys for all the lovely comments and emails last post.  You guys are great for putting up with my complaining.  I’d like to thank you with a fresh, springy, picklely side dish: marinated yellow squash and green beans with dill.  It may not sound like the best thank you gift, but it’s made with my very best olive oil and a fabulous sherry vinegar and with lots of love from me. (Yes, Mr. Colicchio, love is an ingredient, here.)

It’s a really nice spring dish but an even nicer spring is being a fickle lover over here on the east coast dish; the vinegar adds a nip and a kick but the oil smooths everything over and warms you up.  And dill is such a happy, spring herb, isn’t it?  I made this with all the unused fresh vegetables we had from the weekend (Jim got sick and when that happens in this house we like to order take-out sushi and crawl up together on the couch until it passes.).

I julienned the squash mainly because I have a cool little one-purpose tool (I otherwise loathe one-purpose tools but this one is small and handy) that I don’t get to use often enough.  I don’t know how you julienne but this is how I do it: with my little orange julienner; his name is Howard and he makes quick work of a squash.

There’s a bit of prep-work involved in this thank-you dish (it’s sounding less and less like a thank you…), and though a tool like Howard would help, you could do this all with a trusty knife.  Julienne the squash, trim the green beans, and slice the mushrooms.  After that’s done, you’re practically there.  Blanch the vegetables quickly in boiling water, drain, and add to a vinagairette of sherry vinegar, your best olive oil, dill, and scallions.  Let it cool for an hour or so—I put mine out on the porch in the cold spring air—then season again with more salt, pepper, and dill.  And there you have it; thank you, with dill.

Marinated Squash and Green Beans

serves 4 – adapted from Saveur

We had this with some codfish lightly battered in flour and Urban Accents Pride of Prague spice blend, which has notes of paprika, fenugreek, dill, caraway, nutmeg, and pepper.  Very delicious.

  • 3 or so yellow squash
  • 1.5 pounds green beans
  • a few handfuls of button mushrooms
  • 4-5 scallions, chopped
  • fresh dill, to taste
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 good olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Julienne squash and set aside.  Trim green beans and cut in half crosswise (or lengthwise if you don’t mind the extra work).  Slice mushrooms.  Once the water is boiling, add vegetables and blanch for a minute or two.  Drain well, trying to rid of any extra water—shaking the colander around helps.

In a medium bowl, add all the vegetables while they are still warm, then add the vinegar, oil, dill and scallions.  Salt and pepper.  Let cool for an hour or longer.  Season with more dill, salt, or pepper to taste.  Serve with a drizzle of that good olive oil.

Braised asparagus.

I have no idea how to plan my wedding.  I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know when I’d like to have it, even, and Jim foresees a wedding a bit farther in our futures than I do; though I’m not, honestly, even sure of that—I’m not sure that I don’t want to have a long engagement, except for the nervous but-does-that-leave-enough-wiggle room-in-my-engaged, married for a handful of years before having kids-life plan? and I’m not a life planner. I don’t even know that I want kids.

Getting engaged makes me feel ridiculously ill-prepared for adult life and I’m honestly running on the knowledge of things I’ve seen on TV and the ability to stick fingers in my ears, clamp my eyes shut, and hum until it all goes away.

Though I only feel that way when I start wedding planning; when my heart starts beating a little bit too hard, and I begin to sweat.  Because I can go all day thinking about the food and the fun we’ll have but the logistics, I’m not ready for them yet.  So for now, I’ll stick to braised asparagus and that warm, comforting feeling that I’m a fiancée who will be able to make a damn-good dinner for her husband, even if she needs to stick fingers in her ears, clamp her eyes shut, and hum over everything else.

Braised asparagus can surely comfort and it’s especially good for these cold spring days we’ve been having, when braised asparagus with slices of gruyère is much more appropriate than quickly blanched stalks with lemon.  By braising, you get all of that deliciously woodsy asparagus flavor, it’s just a little quieter, sleepy maybe.  The dark green color is a good indication of the taste—darker than quickly cooked asparagus, less biting but deeper too.  And really, really good.  Good enough to make me feel a little weepy and happy that I have some braised asparagus around to give me a warm, green hug.  (Though nothing beats a hug from my fiancé.)

Braised Asparagus with Gruyère Cheese

serves 2-4

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 big shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • salt, pepper
  • gruyère cheese
  • parsley, tarragon, basil, or mint, optional

Trim asparagus, peeling the ends if they are large stalks.  Mince shallot and garlic together.

Heat butter in a pan with a lid over medium-high heat, add shallot mixture and cook for a minute, until they are softened.  Add asparagus, water, and season with salt and pepper then cover pan with lid.  Cook until asparagus are very tender, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice gruyère very thinly, using a cheese slicer or y-shaped vegetable peeler if you have one.  Chop herb or your choice, if using.

When asparagus is tender, transfer to a plate, pour remaining shallots and sauce over, and arrange cheese slices on top.  Season with herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.

Don’t Fear the Bluefish, Part Deux

When I first started blogging, I wrote a post about bluefish.  In it, I claimed that I knew the ultimate way to cook bluefish: to have Jim do it.  He let me in on his crisped-skin secret (scraping your knife against the skin to squeegee off any moisture before you cook) and it does indeed make a tasty bluefish, or any fish for that matter.  We do this crispy-skin method for fish about twice a week actually, with salmon mostly now, and it always gets great results.

But despite how good that method is, I’m telling you today: I’ve found a better way to cook bluefish, with the help of Rick Moonen of Fish Without a Doubt, who advised me on the right pan (cast-iron), the right cooking method (broiling).  The rest of the recipe came from my windowsill herb box.  I used basil, parsley, with a few cloves of garlic and the zest of a lemon, to make an herb butter.

If  you’ve never made an herb butter—with good butter and fresh herbs—then you are in for a treat.  I use them all the time, with different herbs for different proteins: sage or tarragon for chicken, rosemary or thyme for steak, dill or parsley for fish, or I just use whatever tickles my fancy (or needs to be picked from the windowsill).  I’ve never been disappointed with an herb butter and, after you start using them, you can’t stop.  I tried using an olive oil, salt, and pepper rub on a chicken dish that I’d done before with a sage-lemon butter, and oh-man was that disappointing. So, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Because once you try bluefish with herb butter, you’ll regret having it any other way.  Succulent and fresh, this recipe will turn any bluefish-hater around.  The bits of garlic in the butter get slightly burnt and give you that crackle-in-your-teeth contrast to the soft, buttery fish.  Both the basil and the parsley stand out of their own, while working well together—the parsley woody and green, the basil sweet.

To cook it, you put a cast iron pan in the oven so it sits right under the broiler, and broil the empty pan for about 15-20 minutes, so that it gets smokin’ hot.  Then you take the pan out (with good oven mitts!) and add a dollop of the herb butter.  Place the bluefish into the pan, skin side down—it will immediately cinch up and contract—and then place a few spoonfuls of the herb butter on top of the fish. (It may look like a lot of butter in the picture—and it is, about 2 ½ tablespoons.  Not all gets onto your plate but it helps to keep the fish moist when cooking.  And if you’re really worried about it, bathing suit season and all, eat a smaller piece of fish.)  Place the pan back under the broiler and broil for 3 minutes, then baste the fish by spooning the butter over it before putting it back into the oven to broil for another 2-4 minutes, until the fish is white throughout the fillet, yet still very moist.

To serve, put a piece of the fillet on a plate and drizzle some of the browned herb butter over it.  Green beans quickly cooked then tossed with olive oil and lemon are the perfect accompaniment.  Or some new potatoes on the side, little sponges to sop up the juices.  Whatever you eat it with, I’m sure you’ll love it.  Don’t fear the bluefish… just eat it.

Broiled Bluefish with Basil-Parsley Butter

serves 2

for the butter

  • 3 tablespoons good butter, softened
  • small handful basil
  • smaller handful parsley
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 (16-ounce) piece bluefish, skin on

Put butter in a small bowl, softening in the microwave for 5 seconds if needed.  On a cutting board, chop your herbs, garlic, and zest together.  Add the herb mixture and salt to butter and mash up to combine.  Season with black pepper

Put the oven on broil and place a cast-iron skillet in the uppermost shelf, or right under the broiler.  Let the cast-iron pan heat for 15-20 minutes, while the herb butter’s flavors are melding.

Season your bluefish with salt and pepper.  When skillet is smoking hot, take it out of the oven with good oven mitts and transfer to cutting board.  Add a spoonful of herb butter to bottom of skillet then place bluefish skin side down in skillet.  Transfer back to the oven and broil for 3 minutes.  Remove skillet and baste fish with butter.  Transfer back to oven and broil for another 2-4 minutes, or until bluefish is cooked through but still moist.

Serve bluefish with some butter drizzled on top and as much of the crispy herbs and garlic that you can pick up.  Goes particularly well with lemony green beans.

Scallops with mustard and balsamic, on a bed of arugula.

When winter starts to turn, spring changes my kitchen.  Asparagus slithers in, artichokes make a big entrance.  Strawberries begin to take the place of oranges and, most importantly, I start serving practically everything on a bed of greens.  Lamb chops, pork, canned tuna, even steak.  Peppery, spicy arugula is my green of choice, but butter lettuce, spinach, young kale, and even a mesclun mix can find its way to the bottom of my plate.  I almost feel sorry for it—always underneath the protein, like the overweight girl on the cheerleading team, having to lift up the stupid thin, blonde ones, with their bird legs and super-cute boyfriends and well-managed ponytai—not that I have any personal experience or anything…

But unpleasant high school memories aside, I’d like to give the bed of spring greens its due.  They are, for me, the best part of the meal.  Greens make the perfect bed for protein—they can be dressed with a pungent dressing, too strong for a salad, because the protein’s fat and juices will even everything out.  I like that it gives me a chance to wield heavy amounts of mustard, or use a tart balsamic vinegar with nothing else—I’m not sure why, but I like that.

This meal uses both mustard and balsamic, and they both—spicy and tart—compliment sweet scallops like nothing else.  Scallops need a bit of muscle in the way of flavor, in my opinion, because their sea-scented sweetness, while great on their own or with cream, can become too much without any contrast.  And as delicate as they look, a scallop’s flavor can stand up to the strongest mustard sauce.

But I’m inclined to say, all would be nothing if not for the arugula.  Its peppery flavor is almost as strong as the mustard and vinegar it’s dressed with but it adds a new dimension—vegetal, fresh, biting greenness underneath it all.  Kind of like spring, and the green grass that has been seemingly right under the snow and dirt all winter, that is just now peeping into the world, gearing up for the season.

Scallops with Mustard Sauce and Balsamic, on a bed of Arugula

Serves 2

  • 4-6 cups arugula
  • drizzling of balsamic vinegar
  • 6 dry sea scallops, abductor muscle removed
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • a small handful of sliced scallions, optional

Arrange arugula on a serving platter and drizzle balsamic vinegar over leaves, without mixing and dressing them.  Get a nonstick pan very hot, adding a bit of olive oil.  Once the oil starts to sputter, place the scallops onto the pan.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until they are browned, then flip so that you can brown the other side, another 2-3 minutes.  Remove scallops, arranging them on top of the arugula.

Add shallot to the pan.  Stir to heat them and then add the white wine.  Let the wine reduce by  half, then turn off the heat and add the water and mustard.  Reduce a little bit more, so the sauce begins to thicken, then add the butter piece by piece, whisking or swirling the pan so that it eases into the mustard and creates a thick, creamy sauce.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour over scallops and arugula, mixing everything together to get the sauce and balsamic to lightly coat everything.  Sprinkle with scallions.  Serve.

*Arugula can be arranged on platter and drizzled with balsamic a few hours a head of time.